It’s a Bloodbath Out There

“It's a bloodbath out there.”

That is how a good friend and industry executive described the retail toy marketplace to me recently, and another confirmed that observation the very next day.

Though I have heard that some companies claim significant sales and profit growth this year, in the same breath they like to talk about the problems their competitors are having. One observer claimed that the industry as a whole is being downgraded, though I cannot confirm that statement.


A long term trend has been the declining effectiveness of TV advertising to reach a target audience. With the rapid growth in the streaming of content to mobile devices, the challenge of reaching both children and the 25-35 year-old moms that make purchasing decisions is exacerbated. What to do?

As this very same demographic of Moms upgrade to the latest new iPhone, iPad, etc, they give the older model to their children to play with, and there is a great deal of play value that can be had with such a device over a wide range of ages. Is this then supplanting traditional toy and game purchases? Moms' yearly $500+ upgrade to the latest model mobile phone/tablet has to come out of the budget somewhere. Are toy expenditures suffering as a result?


Educating the consumer on the unique benefits accrued by playing with a real toy, and with real playmates, or a real game with real opponents, is incumbent on the toy industry.

Play value is not just time spent playing with a toy or game, but also the value of the intangible benefits of playing with such toy or game – like learning how to effectively interact with others, learning fine and gross motor skills, etc., etc., – that an on screen app will not likely provide.


Back to the 'Bloodbath' comment. Whatever is going on out there and why?

The toy execs that I spoke with on the subject have little explanation for it. There is no blockbuster toy this year for reasons that elude me and them. I'm not sure there was one last year. We have economic worries domestically, and Europe is a freakin’ mess, though toy sales in Europe are reported to be fine. Since time immemorial video games and computer games have competed and taken dollars away that might otherwise be spent on toys.

Is it a lack of innovation in product? Is it ineffective marketing? Is it the economy? What do you think?

2 thoughts

  1. Good article, Bruce.
    Part of the problem, which I am sure you recognize as one of our preeminent developers, is the rush to homogenize products through licenses and major toy brands. If this observation is true, then the novelty or delight of a new toy creation is often subsumed by the imposition of the licensed character. (“That’s not Barbie!” – or Thomas or Ninja Turtles) The brilliant development is just another feature driven by the licensed character and not loudly promoted on its own merit. Then this positioning gets reflected through the identical assortments shown by major retailers. I think the consumer — particularly the Mom purchaser – may get turned off by the lack of variety retailer to retailer as well as in the kind of parallel toy development seen over the last many years — so that each aisle seems to contain variations on the same doll, preschool or boys toy theme. Often reflected in an “own brand” imitation.
    Digital games and aps offer novelty and breadth not reflected in the main aisles of our key retailers. Although the same developmental forces will shrink their excitement in future — just as has happened in the tangible world of toy products.

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